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The World is not small for everyone: pathways of discrimination in searching for information in organizations

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We explore why some employees may be at a disadvantage in searching for information in large complex organizations. The small world argument in social network theory suggests that people are only a few connections away from the information they seek, but this may not be true for everyone. Some employees may have longer search chains than others in locating experts in an organization - their world may be large, not small. We theorize that two mechanisms - homophily and out-group status - jointly operate to lengthen search. Employees who belong to an out-group by virtue of their gender, tenure and network centrality have less awareness of who knows what in an organization. When they start a search chain, they are likely to engage in homophilous search by contacting colleagues like themselves, thus contacting others who also belong to an outgroup and keeping the search chain at the periphery of the organization. To search effectively, employees in outgroups need to engage in heterophilous search behaviours by crossing social status boundaries. We find support for these arguments in a network field experiment consisting of 381 unfolding search chains in a large multinational professional services firm. The framework helps explain discrimination in the form of employees' unequal pathways to the information they seek, a poorly understood yet important type of organizational inequity in an information economy.

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en

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application/pdf

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http://flora.insead.edu/fichiersti_wp/inseadwp2008/2008-61.pdf

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Copyright INSEAD. All rights reserved